Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dispatches from NAPT Los Angeles: Joe Tehan Wins NAPT LA Main Event

By Pauly
Compton, CA

The NAPT Los Angeles Main Event changed locales from the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens to the Compton, CA, where the final table was played out under the bright lights of a TV set and recorded for an ESPN2 broadcast sometime in December. The venue change gave me flashbacks of the 2005 WSOP, when the Main Event began at the Rio and then the final two days returned to Downtown Las Vegas and it's former home inside Benny's Bullpen at the Horseshoe. The Crystal Casino gave off a bit of seedier vibe than the Bike and usual stops on the tour. The massive Bingo Parlor attracted swarms of elderly bingo degens driven en masse to the Crystal in church vans. They were the perfect display of the eccentric indigenous locals who frequented the Crystal for nightly low-stakes Bingo.

The circus moved to the hood for the latest installment of the NAPT. Compton is not often muttered in the same breath as the Bahamas, London, Sydney, Las Vegas, and San Remo when you think about hotbeds for poker. Yet for a brief moment, a small group of poker media, agents, executives, hanger-ons, and genuine fans converged on the Crystal Casino for the final table of the NAPT Los Angeles. At one time, Compton was the epicenter for the worst gang violence in the nation, but lots of things have changed since that low point in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For a brief hiccup in 2010, Compton became the crossroads of the poker world.
NAPT LA - Main Event Final Table Chip Counts:
Seat 1: Jake Toole - 1,975,000
Seat 2: Joe Tehan - 1,907,000
Seat 3: Mike Binger - 1,670,000
Seat 4: Anh Van Nguyen - 1,058,000
Seat 5: Jason Mercier - 3,800,000
Seat 6: Al Grimes - 982,000
Seat 7: Ray Henseon - 3,268,000
Seat 8: Christopher DeMaci - 6,283,000
Excerpts from my notes about the final table...

- The TV set was located in a far corner of the casino and blocked off from the outside world. It wasn't exactly sound proofed. The Crystal Casino bar behind us was separated by thin cloth. You could hear the bartender tossing empty bottles into the trash, and the later it got, the conversations from few inebriated locals increased in volume.

- The smallness of the tournament room reminded me of the cramped Benny's Bullpen, especially the continuing floral patterns of the stained red carpet, not to mention the low ceilings with some of the tiles slid out in order to accommodate lighting rigs. Even the jig cam seemed constricted and didn't have the swooping mobility that you'd see inside the Amazon Ballroom. The temperature inside the tournament room resembled a sauna. The bright lights and closed set will do that.

- Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier was on a mission and seeking a victory in another event on a PokerStars sponsored tour. He shipped the NAPT Mohegan Sun $25K High Rollers Bounty Shootout earlier this spring. A second NAPT title in 2010 seemed possible. Even though he wasn't the chipleader, Mercier entered the final table as one of the favorites to win. When you have a knack for closing out tournaments (he's got a WSOP bracelet and an EPT title on his impressive resume), you're always a favorite at final table regardless of chip count.

- Joe Tehan made a cameo at the final table. He's been grinding out the tournament circuit since I started covering poker. Tehan has a WPT title under his belt and over $2 million in career earnings. Ray Henson has been around the block a few times. He used to manage a Foot Locker in Texas and posted a deep run in the 2007 Main Event. Henson was considered an outside favorite to win the event.

- Two rows of spectator seats flanked the final table with three rows of spillover seats behind a fake half-wall. Chipleader Christopher DeMaci drew the largest contingency of supporters, many of who drove up from the OC to railbird his run at the final table. TD Mike Ward called them "Percentage Fans", which is a semi-joke because in all reality it is hard to distinguish the real friends from those who have a piece of a player. Whenever DeMaci won a hand, his fans waved a handmade sign, "YAWN! Too Easy." DeMaci's friends hung right in front of the secondary press row which I dubbed the "peanut gallery."

- Slow start. We were joking around about the lack of flops and the small number of hands that actually went to the river. The final table kicked off at 2:24, and it took until 3:14 before we had a first all-in and a call. Joe Tehan five-bet shoved with Kings for almost 2 million and Chris DeMaci had called with Ac-Kc. Tehan's Kings held up for a double up. DeMaci retained the lead, but definitely took a shot on the chin.

- At 3:27, Joe Tehan found himself on the other side of pocket Kings. He was all in with pocket sevens against Anh Van Nguyen's Queens. The flop was Q-J-10 and the turn was an Ace, which improved Anh Van Nguyen's hand with a Broadway straight draw. Tehan was seeking outs for a chop, but it didn't happen. Short-stacked Anh Van Nguyen doubled up to over 1.5M, as Tehan slipped to under 3.5M.

- Almost ninety minutes into the final table, Jake Toole was the first player to bust out. He got it all in with pocket Jacks against Joe Tehan's A-Q off. An Ace on the flop gave Tehan the lead, but Jake picked up an OESD on the turn. Tehan faded the straight and won the pot. Toole headed to the rail in 8th place, good for just $60,000 (12x the buy-in). Tehan seized the lead and pushed over 5M. DeMaci slipped to second with a shade over 4M, while Mercier and Henson hovered around 3M.

- On the break (or any break), there's a surge toward the Players' Lounge and make a beeline for the free food which included savory fried chicken wings (with a little spicy kick). Yesterday during the Shootout, the Players' Lounge offered up spaghetti and meatballs that were surprisingly good.

- Lots more inaction after the break as the tedious pace continued. DeMaci regained the lead against Ray Henson in a hand that went all the way to the river. Henson had his Kings snapped off by A-J when DeMaci flopped an Ace.

- Jason Mercier had been wearing a LeBron James Miami Heat jersey during the opening rounds, but he switched to his infamous lucky striped shirt, which he had been wearing for all of his major wins. Alas, the lucky stripes didn't come through in the clutch for Mercier because he busted in 7th place. He got his 3.65M stack all-in with A-K against Joe Tehan's pocket Jacks. Mercier had been the master of flips for most of the tournament, heck for most of his career, but this was the one flip that he could not win. The board bricked out for Mercier. Tehan's Jacks held up and he surged to around 8M in chips. Mercier won almost $85,000 but looked absolutely bummed. Amateurs and slumping pros would be thrilled to final table a televised event and win 17x their buy-in, but Mercier had his eyes on the top prize and another title. Compton was just another stop on the tour for Mercier, who is a regular on the different international circuits. He'll pack up his stuff and head to Europe to play in the EPT Barcelona next week.

- It took only two hands after Mercier busted before we had another all-in and a call. Joe Tehan won a race with A-J against Michael Binger pocket tens. The flop was all rags, but Tehan's run good was solidified with an Ace on the turn. Binger failed to suck out on the river and he was eliminated in 6th place. Tehan's stack grew closer to the 10M mark. The pace at the final table languished until two players busted inside of three hands. With five to go, one of the agents lurking in the shadows piped up, "Now we're moving boys!"

- With five to go, the battle of the haves versus the have nots emerged. The Haves: Tehan led the way with 11M and DeMaci held over 6.6M for almost 85% of the chips in play. The Have Nots: Henson was in the best shape with 1.5M, Al Grimes had more than 1M and Ahn Van Nguyen dropped under 1M.

- Ahn Van Nguyen four-flushed Roy Henson to flip spots. Nguyen was racing with 4-4 against K-Q. Henson flopped a King, but the board was all hearts and Nguyen flopped a flush draw. He got there on the river, doubled up, and no longer occupied the basement.

- Short-stacked Roy Henson was on death watch and caught a break when doubled up with J-9 against DeMaci's A-J. He flopped a nine and turned a Jack to avoid elimination.

- The Haves clashed in a hand...but never saw a flop. DeMaci got sick and tired of Tehan steamrolling the table with a blitzkrieg of opening raises, and finally stood up to the bully. Henson opened, DeMaci three-bet, Tehan four-bet to 1M, Henson bailed, DeMaci five-bet shoved for 5M, and Tehan folded. DeMaci picked up almost 1.5M on that hand, but Tehan was still ahead with over 10M.

- Double rainbow elimination. Tehan the raising machine open-shoved. Ahn Van Nguyen insta-called. Shortest stack Roy Henson tank-called. Tehan was behind with K-5 against Nguyen's A-Q and Henson's A-J. But you knew that the King was gonna get there, because the poker gods were shining down upon Tehan. The flop was 9-9-4, which added a little drama until a King spiked on the turn, giving Tehan the lead. The river was a blank and Tehan won the pot. His decimation of the final table continued and he knocked out two players in a double elimination. Henson finished in 5th place and PokerStars Team Canada Pro Ahn Van Nguyen finished in 4th. With three to go, Tehan held over 13.5M with DeMaci behind in second with 6.5. Al Grimes, the quietest and nittiest guy at the table, was the shorty with 1M. He was a dead man walking.

- Al Grimes made a stand with 8s-7s, but Joe Tehan took a shot with J-9 and was surprised to find himself slightly ahead when Grimes tabled his suited connectors. The flop was 10-7-3. Tehan flopped a gutter, but Grimes paired his seven to take the lead. The turn was a 9, and Tehan improved to a better pair, but Grimes re-drew to an OESD. The river was a King. Tehan's pair of nines held up and Grimes was busto in third.

- With two to go...Tehan had almost 15M, while Chris DeMaci had over 6M. The players were then sent on a one-hour dinner break. A few groans came out of the peanut gallery. They wanted to keep playing on.

- When play resumed, we got were treated to a lot of min-betting from the aggressor in the hand. Tehan won the first sizable pot in excess of 1M in chips, and methodically chipped away. DeMacis crew didn't have much to cheer about and the heads-up match lacked any sort of enthusiasm. You could hear the idle chatter of a few railbirds and someone in the peanut gallery was watching an episode of Glee.

- After about 40 minutes of heads-up, the chip count was about the same as it was when it started. Zero gain on either side.

- Tehan picked off a river bluff from DeMaci with just King-high. Tehan gained some ground chipwise moving up to over 17M while DeMaci's slipped to under 4M. However, losing to King-high was also a major blow psychologically as DeMaci emphatically shook his head and flashed a look like, "How can I beat this guy?"

- The final two went on a schedule break. Two cameramen headed to the pisser and discussed the passive play from DeMaci. "He should just give up," one of them said just as DeMaci walked into the bathroom. If anything DeMaci failed to adjust to heads-up play and Tehan ran right over him extending his lead 18M to 2.4M lead.

- It didn't take too long after the break before Tehan put DeMaci out of his misery. On the final hand, they got it all in on the flop of Ks-5h-3s. Tehan was ahead with K-10 vs. DeMaci's K-4. The turn was another 5, and the river was a 4. The kickers were essential in this hand. Tehan won with Kings and Fives and a ten-kicker topping DeMaci's four-kicker. Chris DeMaci from the OC collected $440,000 for his runner-up performance. Joe Tehan added a NAPT title to his resume and won $725,000 in cash for his victory in Compton.
$5,000 NAPT LA Main Event - Final Table Results:
1st - Joe Tehan ($725,000)
2nd - Chris DeMaci ($440,000)
3rd - Al Grimes ($250,000)
4th - Ahn Van Nguyen ($195,000)
5th -Roy Henson ($145,000)
6th - Michael Binger ($114,000)
7th - Jason Mercier ($84,857)
8th - Jake Toole ($60,000)

Joe Tehan - 2010 NAPT Los Angeles Main Event Champion
(Photo courtesy of Joe Giron/PokerStarsBlog)

The NAPT Los Angeles attracted 701 runners and Joe Tehan was the last one standing. The 2010 PCA in the Bahamas was billed as the opening event on the NAPT, where Harrison Gimbel faded a field of 1,529 to win $2.2 million. Vanessa Selbst took down the NAPT Mohegan Sun, with her hottie girlfriend on the rail. Selbst bested a field of 716 for a $750,000 payday.

That's it for now. The final table of the Bounty Shootout starts at 2pm on Thursday. Signing off from Compton...

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